Archive | December, 2014

Winter in London and other happy things

28 Dec

london5

My love affair with London continues. We are in the thick of winter, cold winds beat against the window of our room at night and it rains intermittently during the day adding a piercing chill to the air. Still my love for this city, if one can call it that, only grows. I hesitate from referring to London as a city because calling it a city somewhat diminishes its greatness, for London is a lot more than a city. You could say it is a confluence of many cities. Historically speaking too London is made up of two cities, the City of Westminster and City of London so I am not that off the mark.

So as I was saying there is no season in London that can reduce my love and admiration for it. This season, with all its festive atmosphere and spectacular Christmas decorations is no exception.  If anything, London is even more charming in winter what with its Christmas markets, ice skating rinks and poetically bare trees.

Winter in London

Winter in London

Hyde Park is freezing this time of the year, but it is not without cheer. One corner of the Park is hosting the annual winter wonderland. The Christmas market inside the wonderland has chalet style stalls that serve hot chocolate with marshmallows, chips with vinegar, bratwurst and crepes. There are shops selling handmade jewelry, jams and other Christmas fare and bars selling beer and mulled wine. Outside of the park, the  Christmas lights on Oxford Street, Regents Street and Bond Street would bedazzle even the most jaded among us.  What’s not to love about winter if it can be like this?

London1

I have never understood why people make a fuss about the English weather. I find their weather enticing. What an exciting past time it is to go to the weather app and look up the weather for the following day and then discuss it with your family to chalk out plans accordingly. You might argue that winter is winter is winter. But there is a 5 degree Celsius that feels like 5 degrees and there is one that feels like a minus 3 degrees. Then there is 2 degrees with sleet and there is 2 degrees with sunshine. But the best part is that none of them feel the same in England.

Much as I like winter, generally speaking, the one disadvantage it has over other seasons is that it takes me an hour to dress up the kids and myself and then another hour to find myself beneath all those clothes. Putting on and removing so many layers, several times a day is a cardiovascular exercise in itself. These dressing up rituals are routine for a person from Delhi but to a person from Bombay, it remains a challenge. What is even more inconvenient is that in many parts of the world, say Mongolia, one would get away with dressing in frumpy clothes underneath, but in London one feels the need to look presentable in the very least, if not fashionable when one is done removing the outer layers once inside a café, shop or restaurant. I can finally say that not having central heating in most parts of North India might not have been such a bad idea after all. You could be in your jammies under all those layers and nobody would have to know.

In spite of our best efforts to appear presentable, we have had our fashion police worthy moments during this trip. Just this evening the husband and I walked towards a restaurant at Notting Hill looking fairly ridiculous. Him in his Russian cossack hat looking like an oligarch and me looking like a Hamas recruit with my head and face covered up to my eyes in black.

On another note, you know what they say about weather doing strange things to people? I have realized that it is indeed true. While this cold December weather has turned me into a homebody of sorts, it has transmogrified the husband into a bonafide shopaholic. Over the past week that I have spent with him, he has amassed such an extensive winter wardrobe that one would think he is embarking on an Arctic expedition with Kate Moss no less.

Yesterday the kids and I watched him in action at Ellis Brigham, a specialized store that deals in ski and outdoor clothing. He wasn’t content with merely shopping a bag full of clothes at the store, I caught him browsing their website later in the night as well as a form of bedside reading.

Today he took the girls for an outing on the condition that they would be patient while he shopped at Barbour, another winter store. I excused myself and spent several hours browsing books at Waterstones thankfully because in my opinion, waiting while the woman shops is a man’s privilege and vice versa does not apply. The girls cribbed a great deal about how long their father took to pick his jackets at the store and how awfully bored they were sitting there waiting for him to find the right colour and the right fit.

Over the last two days some gloves have also been procured when there are already some pairs lying around in his suitcase.

I sincerely hope the man will be able to put his various Merino, Cashmere, leather and microfiber inners and outerwear to good use during his expedition with Kate Moss because god knows I do not have room for unnecessary things in our house in Bombay.

As for me, I am keeping my spirits high in spite of the ebb in my desire to shop with help from mulled wine. I love the concoction and cannot get enough of it. I start my day with coffee and a pain au raisin or scones, throw in some cheese in between the next coffee followed by some more cheese and then mulled wine. Who knows if fat is piling up beneath all those coats and puffer jackets  but it does not matter because tomorrow is another day. What kind of a day will it be, however, remains a question. Maybe I should consult the weather app for that.

London

Christmas Market, Hyde Park

On meeting Fareed Zakaria and surreal dreams of feral cats

15 Dec

Fareed Zakaria

My tryst with that brave cheetah that graced the roof of my jeep in Masai Mara two months ago has earned me some kind of undeserved fame in certain circles.

In more than a few dinner parties since my return from Kenya, I have been introduced at “that girl who was bold enough to eyeball a cheetah and chill in its company instead of ducking into the jeep like the rest of them….”

While my ‘sang froid’ is being spoken of in exalted terms, I shift from one foot to another and wonder if the intensity of that moment has failed to penetrate me. Since this kind of a conversation has taken place more than once in my presence, I have decided to take credit for both my bravado and good fortune in being within caressing distance of the cheetah, even though I feel the praise is largely undeserved.

Indeed it was a welcome although unanticipated event of my life, but I am fearless by nature and as such did not feel that I had made any significant contribution towards the overall drama of the moment. Which is the reason when a friend introduced me to eminent journalist and author Fareed Zakaria as the girl who was daring enough to be in close proximity with a cheetah in the Mara, I felt little embarrassed. Here was the much seen, much heard and much quoted Mr. Zakaria who the Esquire magazine called “the most influential foreign policy advisor of his generation” and here was I, an intrepid tourist who was on the receiving end of a nonchalant cheetah’s time, presence and benevolence.

Perhaps out of politeness, Mr. Zakaria asked to be shown my photograph with the animal, which the husband hastened to produce from his phone with the same enthusiasm and pride that he would have showed off a picture of say Malala Yousafzai taking a shot in her head, had he witnessed the incident first hand with his camera. Mr. Zakaria marvels at the probability of something like this taking place etc before moving on to oblige me with a picture with him.

This encounter with the feral animal has penetrated into my subconscious to such an extent that I have even started to dream about cheetahs. Take for example, last night when I slept with my children on a mattress on the floor of their room, which is undergoing renovation. Having disposed off their old furniture only yesterday morning I decided to sleep with them to prove to them that sleeping on a mattress for a few days never killed anybody.

It was towards daybreak when I had a vivid dream in which I am napping in the green grass of Masai Mara for some crazy reason while the rest of my friends are perched comfortably on top of their jeeps. I am in deep sleep when a cheetah lands from nowhere and decides it wants to tousle my hair with its paws. Cheetah then proceeds not only to mess-up my blow dried hair but also starts to lick my arm. Even in my dream, I remember clearly the cheetah did not possess bad breath just as well as I remember feeling scared to death. My friends, instead of rescuing me, are taking my pictures because lately our lives are all about photo-ops.

cheetahpix

I ask the husband to save me because the cheetah’s nails are scratching my arm and my back as he continues to give me a shiatsu massage, but the man assures me of the animal’s honourable intentions. Next the cheetah is licking my face fondly and I am not sure what to make of it. Is it sampling its next meal or caressing it? I know my end is near when it plasters one big kiss on my lips. I am feeling gross and also terribly afraid when all of a sudden the cheetah retreats. I am too afraid to move but I slowly open my eyes, as if waking up from anesthesia, and what do I find but our nine-month-old ShihTzu pup Tiffany coming back towards me to have a go at my face. The dog has decided that since her masters have downgraded themselves to her level, she is free to romp around on their bed.

I am paralyzed with relief because the adrenalin in my blood is taking time to settle but through it all, I am laughing at the ridiculousness of my dream! Then I reach for my cheeks, yes they will need a lot of scrubbing today for I have been kissed by a cheetah that was a dog.

Tiffany

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